It just wouldn’t do for me to post about Father’s Day without having even acknowledged Mother’s Day — but, here I am, hanging my head in shame. In my defense, I’d been busy running around town last month — actually spending time with the Mom herself. When my mom is (all-too-infrequently) in town, I make it my life’s mission to try and dazzle her with San Francisco’s food and drink. You’d think it’d be easy; my mom lives in suburbia, where the fanciest dinners are at chain steakhouses. Not necessarily. My mom doesn’t approach food in the same sophisticated-slash-snobby way the Bay Area does. Rather, she likes simple food, a good value, and nice setting. With that in mind, I made us reservations at Khan Toke, a Thai restaurant in the central Richmond district.
Khan Toke is not just a restaurant — it’s an experience. Customers walk past a gleaming, golden exterior and into a hushed, carpeted atrium befitted with ornate wooden furniture. Staff will then appear out of thin air, direct you to a bench where you remove your shoes, and stow away your footwear until the end of your meal. You’re then led through a minor labrynth (still intricately decorated), at which point you can choose to sit cross-legged on the floor or at a recessed table. I would recommend the latter, especially since you’ll likely be seated in the gorgeous wood-paneled garden room in the back. Fun, right?!
You certainly won’t get ambiance like this elsewhere in San Francisco. The food, however, can easily be outdone by any number of Thai restaurants in San Francisco. While it’s not bad, it’s not great: firmly entrenched in mediocre territory. Furthermore, while the restaurant’s multi-room layout lends it an air of mystery, it also puts you at the mercy of the servers’ attentiveness. As they say, out of sight, out of mind; sometimes the waitstaff (who are otherwise all very gracious) disappear into the kitchens and return at will. Still, we were seated and served at a good pace, soaking in the surroundings in between.
We began with an order of tom yum soup with prawns and tofu. I’ve typically seen Thai soups served atop burners, and can now see why; the dish definitely would’ve benefited from a higher serving temperature. It was a passable rendition due to the lingering aftertaste; I like my tom yum to finish with a clean, mild burn.
The pla saam rod, or deep-fried tilapia with three-flavored sauce (sweet, sour, and savory), wasn’t quite what we expected. The sauce leaned heavily on its sweet notes and made the breading a bit soggy, but was otherwise good.
The panang beef curry was decent, if a bit on the oily side. It was boosted significantly with the addition of spicy bird chilies. We had the two entrees with brown rice — highly recommended.
Are you getting the impression that Khan Toke is a relic of a bygone era? It is: elaborate, but showing signs of wear. It was clearly borne out of a desire to make a dazzling Thai experience for the thoroughly Western diner. It’s a place to take your older relatives who delight when servers wear costumes and give you sticky rice for dessert. If that sounds like a criticism, it’s not meant as one; there’s certainly an appeal to dining in a meticulously themed restaurant (especially in a hyper-modernized city like San Francisco!).
As for my mom’s take? She noticed a few stains on the servers’ uniforms and smiled noncommittally when I asked her about the food. That said, I caught her admiring the restaurant more than once, gazing at the garden in the back and staring at the statues and wooden scrollwork on the walls. Importantly, we had the space and unrushed time to enjoy ourselves at Khan Toke’s tranquil table. In the end, our dinner was, as it always is, more about the company than anything else.
5937 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121